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Strategies for Developing Information Literacy – A Conference Report

Posted by on Thursday, February 17, 2011 in News.

by Derek Bruff, CFT Assistant Director

Back in November I attended the 30th annual Lilly Conference on College Teaching at Miami University in Ohio. I thought I’d share some session highlights with my Vanderbilt colleagues. Here’s the fifth (and last) in a series of posts about the conference.

Easily Integrating Information Competency Into the Classroom: Best Practices and Practical Assignments

Eric Resnis, Jennifer Bulanda, Elizabeth Sullivan, Kathleen Pickens-French, Miami University

This was a short presentation, but it included a few ideas I found interesting from the perspective of someone new to teaching a writing course. The presenters were part of a faculty-librarian learning community that has created a nice framework for thinking about how to integrate information literacy in courses of various levels. For instance, consider the skill they described as accessing sources:

  • In foundation-level courses (first-year writing seminars, for instance), students should be able to identify “keywords, synonyms, and related terms to describe information effectively.” The presenters recommended tagging exercises, in which students scan articles for keywords and tag them using a social bookmarking service, to help students develop this skill.
  • In intermediate-level courses, students should understand “basic structured search methods including Boolean logic.” (Boolean logic here refers to the use of ANDs, ORs, NOTs, and the like when searching.)
  • In advanced courses (such as capstone courses), students should be able to identify “appropriate discipline-specific and general indexes and databases needed to find relevant information.”

See the presenters’ handout for examples of scaffolding of other skills, such as framing a research question, evaluating sources, and understanding the ethics of information use. This framework is particularly useful because many librarians find it difficult to take students from “here” (having very few information literacy skills) to “there” (having the kinds of information literacy skills their professors expect them to have). The framework provides something of a road map for getting from here to there.

I really like the idea of asking students to use multiple tags when they save articles and other sources using a bookmarking service. I had my students save items to Delicious this fall in my cryptography course, but I only asked them to use the tag “fywscrypto” so that I could easily aggregate them on the course blog. Asking them to use multiple tags not only would have made our collection easier to explore, but it would have helped prepare my students for future library searches by developing their ability to come up with keywords.

Here are a few other teaching activities suggested by the presenters that I found particularly interesting:

  • To help students frame their research question, have them construct concept maps for topics of interest before they begin their research. Doing so can help the students decide on directions of inquiry to pursue, and they can refine and expand their concept map as they conduct their research.
  • To help students learn to evaluate sources, have them, before they write their papers, create annotated bibliographies that include “evaluative information about each source… including how it benefits their paper and the overall quality or credibility of the source.” I’ve heard about descriptive annotated bibliographies, but this was the first time I thought about evaluative components to this kind of student work. I think the idea of rating each source for usefulness fits well with our participatory culture.
  • After students have written their papers, have them create a (revised) annotated bibliography, one that lists every source they found along the way. For each source, have students detail why and how they used it or why they chose not to use it. Having students think a little critically about why they ditched some sources seems like a useful exercise.
  • To help students learn about the ethics of information use, have students “search for images that are in the public domain or licensed under Creative Commons and cite them accordingly.” I pay a lot of attention to intellectual property issues, in part because I use a lot of images in my talks and blog posts and in part because I live in Nashville, where I have friends who make their living off their intellectual property. It’s not something on students’ radars, but it probably should be, at least for advanced students in certain disciplines.

I wish I had attended this session before teaching my writing seminar this fall. Had I done so, I think I would have been more intentional about scaffolding my students’ learning experiences in the course and isolating particular skills for development.

Image: “Against Banned Books,” florian.b, Flickr (CC)

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